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While Phoenix is known as Arizona’s Urban Heart, it’s also acclaimed for its stunning desert views, hiking activities, and dramatic sunsets. And since it’s in close proximity to 41,000 acres of mountain parks and desert preserves, there are ample opportunities for adventure when you live in the Valley of the Sun.
Adventurers may choose from six Maricopa County Regional Parks nearby: Lake Pleasant, White Tank, Estrella Mountain, Cave Creek, McDowell Mountain, and Usery Mountain. Lake Pleasant, one of the larger lakes in the area, offers amenities for RVers and boaters—148 sites for RV and tent camping, restrooms and shower facilities at campsites and launch ramps—and no shortage of activities (think camping, wildflower hikes, stargazing programs, and boating).
BOATING HOT SPOTS AROUND PHOENIX
One doesn’t necessarily associate one of the hottest places in the United States with outstanding boating and watersports such as waterskiing, wakeboarding or taking a pontoon boat out with a group of friends. However, locals know that just around the corner, some beautiful desert lakes offer amazing outdoor recreation.
The most popular are the five reservoirs formed by the Salt River Project—an improvement project along the Salt River through the Phoenix Metropolitan Area:
The third largest man-made lake—and the largest in the state of Arizona—Roosevelt Lake is a favorite among the Phoenix and Scottsdale locals for fishing and waterskiing. It features several marinas, camping sites, and a general store. At the wildlife refuge area, you can find deer, black bear, javelina, coatimundi, coyote, gray fox, bobcat, mountain lion, ringtail, and numerous varieties of ground squirrels, snakes, and lizards inhabiting the area.
Just downstream from Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake is another popular boating destination. In addition to waterskiing and wakeboarding, many species of fish can be found in the lake, including largemouth, smallmouth and yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, both channel and flathead catfish, walleye and carp.
Located 48 miles from Phoenix, Bartlett Lake offers opportunities for swimming, waterskiing, camping and more. Nearly 12 miles long and averaging almost 100 feet deep, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more relaxing way to spend your downtime than exploring the lake.
Saguaro Lake is located within the Tonto National Forest just 20 minutes from Mesa, Arizona. While exploring the lake in your boat enjoy a delicious meal at the Lakeshore Restaurant while enjoying the panoramic view of the Goldfield Mountains, Bulldog Cliffs and Saguaro Lake.
The smaller but picturesque Canyon Lake—with red rock canyon walls and hidden coves perfect for fishing—is a must-see when visiting or moving to the Phoenix area. Take your rental boat out on the lake, find a dock, and enjoy the beauty of the desert. Canyon Lake is also a popular stop along the Apache Trail route from Apache Junction, Arizona.
CAMPING HOT SPOTS AROUND PHOENIX
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
White Tank Mountain Regional Park boasts 30,000 acres, making it the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Here, the popular Waterfall Trail leads hikers to waterfall sightings (typically best seen after a rainstorm), and you may also spot petroglyphs along the way. RV camping is available, and all are “developed” sites (each with water, electrical hookups, a picnic table, a barbecue fire ring).
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Even the smaller parks have something special to offer. At Estrella Mountain Regional Park, there are just seven developed RV sites, but activities for sports enthusiasts exist—with over 33 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding; as well as affordable public golfing. There is also a large amphitheater for special events, a lighted arena for rodeos, and two lighted baseball fields.
Cave Creek & McDowell Mountain
Cave Creek offers 38 developed campsites, each able to accommodate up to a 45’ RV. The 11+ miles of multi-use trails here are popular amongst hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians due to dramatic elevation changes and spectacular views of the plains. McDowell Mountain is similarly sought after for its 50+ miles of multi-use trails and great views of the surrounding ranges. Here you’ll find 76 developed sites for tent or RV camping, each capable of accommodating up to a 45’ RV.
Lastly, Usery Mountain is known for its Wind Cave Trail, where water seeps from the alcove’s roof to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. There are 73 developed sites at Usery, and the park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.
EXPLORING BEYOND PHOENIX
For outdoor enthusiasts wanting to take their RV or boat (or an Outdoor Toy Share rental boat or motorhome) a little further outside the Phoenix area, the canyons and monuments of Northern Arizona offer breathtaking views of some of the nation’s most unusual landscapes. Begin by visiting Sunset Crater National Monument, just over two hours from Phoenix; then head to the Wupatki National Monument, where you’ll see several ancient pueblos. Continuing north will bring you to The Grand Canyon, where you can take your pick from the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Trailer Village (adjacent to Mather Campground, and with full hookups), or Desert View Campground (30 ft. maximum RV length and no hookups).
*Note: Be sure to visit nps.gov for updates regarding park alerts and closures.
Lake Powell offers virtually limitless opportunities for boaters, and adventurous jet skiers and hikers will likely want to explore the many slot canyons in the area. Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world’s largest natural bridge, is also a must-see. This feature spans 275 feet across the Colorado River and reaches 290 feet high. For views of the lake, RV travelers can stay nearby at the Wahweap RV park, where there is easy access to Wahweap Marina and the Stateline Launch Ramp.
Travelers may also want to take the long road home by way of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where you’ll find hundreds of prehistoric Anasazi ruins and modern Navajo homes and farms among the cliffs. The nearby Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site offers weaving demonstrations and opportunities to see Navajo artisans trading their goods. Photo ops also abound at the Petrified Forest National Park as well as the Painted Desert.